This is the very first interview held by us here at Britzzlink, and we could not start with a better team. This startup interview with Vanaboard Founders, Felix Drucker and Joost Peeters is providing some great advice and tips for whoever is interested in either studying a Master’s in Entrepreneurship, to start their own startup projects or even doing both of these things.
They have both studied a Master’s of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Lund University, and if you’re wondering if this is worth it or not, check out this interview and also read my other blog post on that by Clicking Here.
A Startup project that started within the Master’s Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Lund University by Joost and Felix. They’ve aimed for ways to improve our lives, especially our habits. So they came up with an offline habit tracker because they found the products available in the market either too complicated or ineffective.
This way they saw an opportunity and decided to create something simple that can help us to break some bad habits or create new good habits by tracking your steps on a daily basis with their board.
If you want to check out their website and see how the Vanaboard works, Click Here.
About the Founders
- Bachelor in Geo Media & Design
- Master’s in Entrepreneurship and Innovation
- Bachelor in Management
- Master’s in Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Startup Interview with Vanaboard Founders
The transcript was adapted in a few parts for a better understanding of the reader.
Thiago: All right guys, so I’m here with two important guests, Felix and Joost. This guys just graduated from the Master’s in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Lund University, the course I’m just about to start, and they started the company called Vanaboard!
Could you introduce yourselves and talk a little bit about your background?
Felix: I originally have a background in Hospitality, then I studied a Bachelor of Management and later on the Master’s of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and in between I worked in management positions and also in recruiting, and yes, lived in different places, Vienna where I’m from, Australia later on for quite a while, and then of course Sweden.
Joost: I grew up in a small town in Belgium, really close to the border of the Netherlands because I’m officially Dutch and I now live in the Netherlands. I started studying and I did a Bachelor’s Degree in Geo Media and Design, which I didn’t like at all, so I decided not to do anything with it.
After that, I worked for two years, first I worked for a small GM, mostly doing price management. Since I joined, one month later it turned out that the company had a huge debt and we had to manage that, so it was a really interesting first working experience.
Then I worked as a Freelancer for a while and later I worked for a year with Marketing, sales marketing on a strategic/tactical analysis operational level for mostly only B2B brands. And then I decided, you know what? I want to go abroad, I want to get a Master’s degree, so I did the Master’s which you’re going to do as well, and that’s where I met Felix and from there, on December 2019 we decided to work together, creating the company Vanaboard.
Thiago: Awesome guys! One thing I can realize just by looking at this, is that this course at Lund University is so diversified, right? because you both have a really different background, which is pretty cool in a subject like this because you get different ideas to come up with Startups.
How was your Master’s in Entrepreneurship and Innovation? Was it more theoretical stuff or did you get some practical exercises as well?
Felix: Yes, If I may start answering that, I think overall it was a great Master’s, super happy that I’ve done it, it was really the best decision.
To answer your question in more detail, I think it was the perfect combination between getting the theoretical basics sort of, from the academic perspective, but then also the practical part, and then just unifying it. They’ve done a really good job creating this program, which unifies it perfectly and I’m very happy I’ve done it.
Joost: Awesome, I think the structure of the program changed a lot throughout the years, I think they have been doing it for about 10 years now, and as a result from all the research they do on entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial process, and now they managed to shape this Master-s in a way which sort of exposes you to to all these things that can happen to you when you step into entrepreneurship.
Of course, you can not replicate everything, because I mean, one of the first things you learn is that you can not learn entrepreneurship from the book, you have to actually do it in order to learn it. A lot of projects are based on that, but there is no way to 100% simulate that, but they try to and I believe they are doing a good job.
They best prepare you for your entrepreneurial journey, because they give you the basics, they give you the theory beforehand, so then you sort of recognize what type of process you are going through, and that is what increases the chances of the students to be successful entrepreneurs.
Thiago: That is pretty awesome to hear that from students that have gone through that, because I’m super excited to go there exactly because of those points that you just mentioned, and it’s pretty cool to be having this conversation with you guys about this.
How did you come up with the idea for the Startup? Was it a part of a project or part of the Master Thesis?
Joost: I think it was around December 2019 when Felix worked together with three other students creating a food type product but wasn’t extremely invested in it or it didn’t feel right for him, and I had the same thing, I was working together with two other students in a project, but we did a feasibility analysis and it turned out it wasn’t feasible.
So in December, I’ll just speak for myself, I was kind that stuck, you’re at home at Christmas and you have this halfway through the year and I don’t have anything right now, so then I just started to write down goals for myself. What is it that I really want to do, because I don’t just want to do a project, get my degree, and do something else, I want to start a business.
I wrote down a couple of requirements, and a couple of things was that it should be really easy to bring it to market, not any biomedical things that take forever to hit the market. I wanted to have something simple, I wanted to have something fast, I wanted to have something that I could actually do because with the experience that I have, what are things that can actually do, and what would be a good product.
So I wrote those things down and then I just started to look at a tone of kickstarts projects and other Pinterest, all kinds of things. There I saw a product which sort of the same concept as ours is, but I feel I already saw that there were, you could improve it in many ways and also in different variations you could create of it.
Then I came back, and Felix and I have already teamed up for the thesis and we talked about the idea and Felix loved it. Felix, you can take it from here from your perspective.
Felix: I think how we teamed up was in a super natural way, because you might experience that in the program as well, they’ll always push you to take action obviously, which I think is very good.
the beginning, it was a bit chaotic, everyone needs to find the “perfect” partner for the project and it felt to me like finding someone at a dating website, a little bit unnatural and that resulted in me teaming up with these other guys, which was also an interesting project, but not really my thing how it turned out.
Then I came back the first day after the Christmas holiday, sat down next to Joost, we just talked a little bit about the habit board, super naturally and said I’m looking for someone, are you kidding? yeah, let’s go for lunch.
We talked for about one hour, I was really into what Joost said and ever since then we worked together.
Thiago: It’s pretty interesting because you came up with something simple and something that you can actually market. So just like you said, you didn’t came up with a biochemical product that would take years to put it in the market, so you created a model and started putting in place to start selling.
This was the final project for your Master’s degree, but you already have a company ready to go, so that’s pretty amazing.
What were the main challenges in building up this company?
Felix: I would say one challenge that comes to our mind is pretty obvious is just balancing the University, specially the Master’s thesis and at the same time making progress, because pretty early on we have already talked with classmates that we would create the habit board and a prototype of that.
Joost managed to pre-sell one of our classmates already on the product, and then we had kind that time pressure to create something really nice and first, we came to the prototype and then the next version always improving it to then deliver it, but then, next to that, obviously to further development, just to manage the Master thesis. I think that was a challenge.
Later on, also working from two different points, I think that was a challenge we managed very well, maybe Joost has some additional ideas.
Joost: I think that we didn’t have a lot of big setbacks, for us it was a really strait forward process. We had an idea, we actually found a place super close where we could create prototypes, and do all kinds of experiments with our product.
It was kind that the ideal start, and we just pushed that first month to just push the first product, and from there on it went kind that natural in every step, we improved the product, like every month we would improve the product, every month it would get better.
Then at one point, we started to get some sales, first you do of course like the friends and family and some classmates to get some cash, and then we moved to online, starting to sell first time to real strangers, which was really exciting.
I think we talked about it before, Felix and I, before the natural process for us is always, we’re doing a lot of things we have never done before in terms of online marketing. What we do is, we just look at, there is just so much content out there in the internet, I mean, you’re also creating content.
So you just look at that and we see, ok, what would be a good first version? We know we won’t be able to do it perfectly in the first time, but we accept that and we’ve created this first version based on that, we can say what if we can improve on this five things?
And then you just get into a cycle and this happens with product development, this happens with the website, you know, every time you make small improvements, and then all of the sudden after a couple of months you look back and you actually you have some great quality content.
Why haven’t we had some huge setbacks? Because we take a lot of small steps, and there are not some big things depending on one single step. So yes, maybe our biggest challenge will be in the future.
Thiago: Yes, but just like you said, it’s the small steps. You need to start taking action, otherwise the plan won’t go to reality. I even quoted one of these days on a Blog post one sentence from Rocky Balboa, like “One step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time”. It has to be with the small steps, otherwise you just plan stuff but don’t make them happen.
Did you get any help from Lund Incubator or Ideon Innovation Incubator?
Felix: Obviously we got advice from our mentors, which was helpful. You’ll soon find out that, or already know that in the program you get your own mentor. So we got advice from them for sure, which we used.
From the incubator specifically, we got a little bit of funding from the LU Innovation, which all the members from this course can get, and that helped definitely, but other than that, I wouldn’t say too much about the incubators.
So you got more help from the Mentors than from the Incubators?
Felix: From mentors and also just from educating ourselves.
How was the process? Each one of you gets a Mentor or you get one for the project?
Felix: I got two and Joost got one, but I don’t know why I got two. If it is a good or bad sign, but normally everyone gets one. I got two for some reason, which is also some kind that speed dating system, then you choose a preference and they also choose a preference and they match it up some how.
We both ended up with good mentors I would say, and those were obviously giving us advice.
What about going online? Did you hire someone to create the website?
Felix: Joost mostly did it!
Joost: When we first wanted to start online, we had a super strict deadline, so I mean, we went as fast as we possibly can. Without doing much research, because I know a little bit about web development, but not that much.
So Shopify was the most straight forward way for us to go, so within one day or two days, we created our first webshop via Shopify. From there on we had this exit point, ok, now we can actually sell online because we had the basics, from there on we’ve been just improving until the website we have right now, and I’m sure in three months it’s going to look different.
How was your experience with Shopify?
Joost: The websites I did it in the past, I coded them myself with bootstrap, so that is not even a comparable experience with other platforms that I don’t have experience with such as Woocommerce or like WordPress, but it gets all the functions.
It is really designed for small webshops, that people want to launch fast and it is really easy to use and that you’ll never have to deal with any code, and it is everything included. It’s like the ordering system, automatic emails, payment providers are included, so it is all in one package that you can get for like $30 per month. It’s sort of all the vital ingredients you need to launch your first online store.
I think that to start it is great, and I think in the future when we’ll grow and we’ll have different requirements, for example, more customizations of the website, different types of designs that we want to try out, perhaps then we’ll get to a point where we’re like, ok, now we want to do a lot of things and Shopify is not really designed to do for us.
Maybe then we’ll look further and actually get like a proper designer and make something more custom built. But I think for now and maybe at least the next couple of months Shopify will provide us with everything that we need.
What is the strategy to promote your product online?
Felix: We do both, but most of the sales have been generated through Instagram Ads, a little bit of Facebook I believe. I’m more taking care of the organic Instagram growth and Joost is more behind the ads and optimizing the target groups, experimenting with different ads. At the end, most of the sales were through Instagram paid ads.
Joost: Yes, I think as we kind that discussed we both kind that enhances each other. When we run a lot of paid ads, we absorb the volume of those and we see that we’ve generated a lot of followers, we generate sales and we also generate followers.
With the organic content that we put in our organic kind of strategy, we try to keep those customers engaged eventually because they might not be a customer today, but they might be a customer tomorrow, or a friend of them might be a customer tomorrow.
I say that how the organic content that we generate helps us grow organically but also helps to sort of nurture the perhaps leads that we generate through the paid advertisings.
I think that paid advertising would be a lot less effective if we wouldn’t do anything organically or try to do anything organically and looking at Felix doing most of the creating the content, and if you look at those statistics, almost half of the views that we get are actually organic views, those are people who are not following our Instagram account.
That also shows that there is Instagram can definitely, if you use it well, reach your customers organically.
Are you simply boosting the posts on Instagram or are you creating ads on the Facebook Business platform?
Joost: Boosting a post is the worst way you can spend money online if you really want a proper return on investment you’re going to dive deep into Facebook ads and look at all the options, and really specific on which target group you’re focusing on.
That will cost a little bit of money, like the first couple of ads wasn’t nearly as effective as the ones we have now, and we hope that in the future we’ll be even more effective.
Just boosting a post will not do it for your online store, you’re really going to have to want to become a specialist in Facebook ads. I think it is a lot of fun actually, I like numbers, I like having a campaign, having a result, a customer acquisition cost.
Also trying to find out with Felix what we can do now, bring those ideas together and launch a new campaign and then see the results and prove. I really like that part of paid advertising.
I saw you sent a Vanaboard to an Instagram Influencer. Did it give a positive impact?
Felix: That specific one didn’t do too much, but we haven’t looked so much into influencer marketing yet. We have a call tomorrow with someone that has an influencer network in Malmö and then we see what will be the options there.
We’ll definitely experiment with some more paid advertisements, but working with influencers is possibly something we’ll work within the future, but other than this one you have seen, we haven’t done a lot in that field yet.
What about SEO? Have you considered creating a Blog section to rank on Google and bring in more organic traffic?
Joost: We are currently in a process of setting it up, I mean, there are a lot of things that you can do like blogs, email marketing campaigns, I mean there is a whole bunch out there. We’ll start with the ones we think are going to be the most effective. We’ll cherry-pick the activities we think will be most effective and go on from there.
Right now we are only active on Instagram specifically and of course we also post on Facebook, but we haven’t tried any other platforms yet, because that Instagram is the best place to start.
We have also not generated a lot of written content yet in this case, for blogs. Those are all things that once we have our processes running, the most vital parts, then we’ll start shifting the focus towards those.
Felix sent me a message this week about Tiktok, and let’s explore if there is a way for us to see if that might be beneficial for us to use. It ain’t the priority number one, but perhaps in a few weeks we’ll be more active there.
What’s the future of Vanaboard? Do you have new products in the pipeline for the near future?
Felix: There is already a second product in the very near pipeline. I’m not sure how much I can disclose, but it will be very soon that you’ll see it. It is also a really similar product but with a different twist.
We’re definitely working on more products, that’s what I can say at this moment. We don’t want to have ten different products, but we also want to shift the way or move on to have at least two or three, possibly four products at some point. Go more towards being a brand, rather than just being a product.
Do you currently sell your products on Amazon or intent to do that in the future?
Joost: We don’t right now, but if we’ll do it in the future I think that is something we’ll have to look in to. Being on Amazon would be a big decision in a lot of ways, I think we would need a lot o margin to it. We would probably won’t be able to do it right now, but maybe later.
We haven’t done real research on it yet, on what the terms and conditions would be and all of those things, but is something that is in the back of our minds, and is something that could be interesting somewhere in the future.
Perhaps when we are more settled and have a production facility where we can produce higher volumes when we have logistics more automated and set up, and also more security in terms of our products which we launch, on what our margins would be. I think for now is really early, but it is definitely something that could be interesting.
Would you consider having an affiliate program to have other people promoting your products and receiving a commission for each sale they bring in?
Felix: We do have something like that already in place, I mean, it is also on a early stage, but we do work together with two people who run a podcast and also a blog around habits and they work out from the Venture Lab.
They are working with us with the affiliate program, and there has been also a bit of interest on Instagram on DMs on such program, so we have created an early version of it, but it is not on a super developed stage but is definitely something for the future I would say.
How did you create, manage and track this affiliate program?
Joost: It is just a Shopify app that you can install. So some people have asked us if that would be a possibility, and is something that we can just send them the login page where they can create an account, they can get a link and they can see everything that happens with that link.
They send out, they promote it, they can keep track also from all the sales they generate, all the pageviews they generate, anything that we can see as well. It is also a fair system, we use it that so they’ll know how much they have, the amount of sales they have driven, as well we.
We can also pre-set an X amount of money for purchase, so that is sort of what we have now in place, which I think should do the job for now. There was one or two people looking for us on Instagram as well, looking for this kind of thing, so that’s what we have in place right now.
What would you advise someone who is just getting started and wants to start their own business?
Felix: From my side, the most important thing is not to over-analyze the situation. It is good to do a bit of research, but in the end follow your feeling, follow what you think is good, and just get going. Do something even if it is small steps, just take them and you’ll eventually get there.
Joost: What I want to add to that, because I completely agree with Felix, is that usually, you don’t have a lot to lose as well right? Just go for it, because what is the worst-case scenario? Most things that you can do online, especially with the online businesses, require very little capital, so the worst thing that is going to happen is that you spend some time learning those skills and having a great experience, so there is no big downsize there.
Thiago: Yes, couldn’t agree more with you there! All right guys, thank you very much Felix and Joost for participating in this interview and I hope you guys enjoyed it.
Post Cover Photo by Vanaboard